Posts by slapin

On Rabbis and Immigration (Guest Musing)

February 16th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 31 comments

I am delighted to share my Musing platform with Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt. You will soon hear more about Rabbi Rosenblatt who we are delighted to welcome as director of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC). He shares our passion for and commitment to an America firmly based on Judeo-Christian values. Like us, he is deeply troubled when Judaism is misrepresented as modern liberalism. He was moved to compose the following piece.

On Monday, February 6, some 200 rabbis and rabbinical students protested outside Trump International Hotel in Manhattan.   19 of them blocked traffic and were arrested for disorderly conduct.  The group was protesting President Trump’s executive order placing a 90-day hold on immigration from seven countries which lack adequate security programs to vet the peaceful nature of visa holders: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of Teru’ah, the left-wing rabbinical group that organized the protest, said it was meant to show that many Jews oppose the ban.

“We remember our history, and we remember that the border of this country closed to us in 1924, with very catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust.  We know that some of the language that’s being used now to stop the Muslims from coming is the same language that was used to stop Jewish refugees from coming“, she said. 

As the great-grandson of a rabbi who immigrated to the United States in 1924 because of religious persecution, these words caught my attention.

My Zaida, Rabbi Jacob A. Dubrow, was a rabbi in the Vinnitsa region of Ukraine.  During the Russian Civil War, he was marked for death by Ukrainian Whites.  Fleeing to a large city he survived the threat, but was at risk for deportation to Siberia when the Reds were victorious.  He escaped Ukraine and acquired a hard-to-get visa to the United States.  His wife and daughters followed and arrived in New York in 1926. 

I wonder what Zaida would have said about the travel ban.    

Zaida was a Lubavitcher chasid, an Orthodox Jew.  He passed away decades before I was born; even my father knew him only as a child.  Nonetheless, having followed in his path as an Orthodox rabbi, and having close friends within the Lubavitch movement, I am confident I know what he would have said.  

Zaida was a quiet man, a scholar.  He was thoughtful, benevolent, but firm.    

Undoubtedly, he would have been against a blanket ban on immigration from war torn countries. He would have advocated that America accept peaceful refugees of war seeking a better life for their families.  He would have supported families being allowed to reunite; without that, my grandmother and her sisters would have never been allowed to join him in the United States.   

Yet, he was a wise man.  He would not have supported, for example, the immigration of the Ukrainian Cossacks who tried to kill him.  His passion for justice would have led him to do all he could to stop barbarous murderers from entering this country.  Being benevolent does not mean being a fool.    

Zaida would not have relied on a letter from Cossack leader Admiral Alexander Kolchak, certifying that a potential immigrant was upstanding.  He would have advocated a vetting system to make sure people from cultures that embrace murder and mayhem, were indeed peaceful and of law abiding.      

A rabbi who escaped death by telling his neighbors he was traveling north and instead travelled south, would have never accepted the liberal concept that all people are inherently good, that all humanity would be sweet as apple pie if only we welcome them into our homes.  Zaida saw human beings at their worst, and he would have passionately advocated keeping those who embraced evil away from these hallowed shores.

The very notion that the United States should rely on Iran – a country that threatens to destroy Israel and America – to vet visa holders to make sure they don’t want to destroy America, is madness.  The idea that Syria, Sudan and Somalia have the will and ability to separate 100 Muhammad Attas from 1000 of his peaceful coreligionists is absurd.     

Ignoring evil is not a Jewish concept.  It is a liberal concept.  Liberal rabbis protesting in support of unchecked immigration from countries where large swaths of the population seek to destroy the West are sorely misguided. To be Jewish is to be benevolent.  But to be Jewish is to recognize the reality of good and evil.  Judaism values doing good, selfless and endless good – within the context of supporting good and destroying evil.  Sadly, those who don’t recognize the reality of evil are least prepared to stand against it.

I pray that God give President Trump the strength and fortitude to protect the citizens of this great country, and that America continues, for centuries to come, to accept millions of peaceful immigrants, whatever their religion or lack thereof, who embrace the Judeo-Christian values that have made this country great.

This article appeared first in The Jewish Press.

Wanna Talk About Me

February 9th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 35 comments

Toby Keith’s country music song, I Wanna Talk About Me always makes me laugh. It stops being funny when it isn’t about a guy who says to his girlfriend, “I like talking about you, you, you, usually, but occasionally I wanna talk about me,” and instead represents the plea of children to the adults in their lives.

We live in strange times. Many parents are clueless. In the 1940s, Mama’s Bank Account was a popular book. Renamed as I Remember Mama it became a movie, play and TV show. It was a peek into author Kathryn Forbes’ Norwegian grandparents’ lives as they raised a family in the United States. The title story, if memory serves me correctly, was how her grandmother frequently spoke about a bank account that could be accessed in an emergency, thus providing her children with a sense of financial security. Only when the children grew up did they find out that there wasn’t really any savings account and how vulnerable they truly had been.

Many adults today similarly work to provide their children with a feeling of safety. The mother whose checkbook is running low but whose children see her putting money in the Salvation Army bucket isn’t only modeling charitable giving. She is reassuring them that they are fortunate enough to help others rather than alarming them about their own financial difficulties. The father who presents a confident face to his young children despite privately worrying about being laid off, allows them to focus on their schoolwork rather than on fear.

And then there are the, “I wanna talk about me,” parents and teachers. Sometimes, they are simply careless, speaking about adult matters within earshot of children. Or they just might not have the self-control to regulate their emotions during tough times. Most of us can relate to those scenarios, though hopefully we work on ourselves to do better.  Other parents and teachers are more problematic and need to be called out.

They are the adults who misuse the children in their lives for their own aims, often political.  Teachers have their students write letters to politicians opposing anti-union measures. School projects are based on environmental fears. Assignments present complex issues as one-sided and terrifying. In the anti-logging political environment of Washington State in the 90s, some parents had to deal with sensitive children’s night terrors where youngsters pictured loggers armed with menacing chainsaws coming after them.

What brought this Pacific northwest memory to mind was reading a quote from one African-American mother as to why she participated in the women’s march opposing President Trump. She spoke of her daughter’s fears that they would be deported to Africa. Now, this was not an illegal immigrant from Ghana; the implication was that this was a multi-generational American citizen. If her daughter was truly afraid of deportation that means that the adults in that child’s life are responsible for that fear. Whether it is the mother, teachers, or friends’ parents, these adults are ignorant and need to better educate themselves. Alternatively, they deliberately play into lies in order to advance their own political philosophies. Meanwhile, a child is needlessly terrified.

This is not a Right/Left issue. I am a pro-life proponent, yet I object to posters that show dismembered babies at public rallies  because they don’t belong where children can see them. No one should deliberately place  horrible images in a child’s mind. Likewise, I  would object to a teacher assigning letters to a politician pleading for refugees not to be let into America because students are worried about being blown up by terrorists. Terrifying children is a particularly unwholesome activity.

We walk a fine line between educating our children about issues of the day and passing on our own convictions, and betraying our trust as their guardians. Even when real and immediate danger is present, thrusting our fears onto our children’s fragile shoulders is wrong.  Certainly, using them as political pawns is indefensible.

Gratitude and Gorsuch

February 2nd, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 66 comments

I must open this Musing with gratitude. Gratitude to those of you who wrote such lovely comments after last week’s Musing and to those of you who thought of writing but never quite did (been there done that). I am truly honored by your friendship. Many of you also sent lovely notes and heartfelt prayers just one year ago when our daughter had emergency surgery and delivered her son prematurely. I’m filled with gratitude to you and overwhelmingly to God for the good health they both now enjoy that can make those scary days seem much longer ago than they actually are.

Like most Americans, I only heard about Judge Neil Gorsuch recently. Not to worry—a quick search brings up any number of articles with titles such as, “Seven Things to Know about Judge Gorsuch,” or “Five Important Facts about the Supreme Court Nominee.” Scanning those articles didn’t answer my main question.

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My Son is Marrying a non-Jewish Girl

February 1st, 2017 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 19 comments

Question:

 Rabbi Lapin, you are my rabbi for many years – I listen and recommend to all my friends your CDs, I read books and listen to podcasts, sometime more then one time… I always find something new, and most importantly you always manage to lift my spirits. I’m so grateful for having your presence in my life! 

I’m Jewish, but coming from the Soviet Union, I’m not a religious Jew. I have always believed in G-d, since I remember myself, but my relationship with G-d is a personal one rather than formally religious. I’m very happily married for 35 years to a Jewish man. I remember that I have never even considered marrying someone outside of my “tribe”, so to speak… But my sister is married for almost 40 years to a wonderful Russian man, who I love dearly.

Now my son has brought home a girl, who I happen to like a lot. Everyone in our family loves her; I think she is good for my son, but she is Russian, not Jewish and it bothers me.

You always managed to solve my dilemmas – what can you recommend in this case? How do I make my peace with my son marrying this girl?

Lyudmila R.

Answer: 

Dear Lyudmila,

Thank you so much for bringing our work to the attention of your friends.  We appreciate that.

We’d like to start by giving some background information to our readers. When you say, ‘Russian’ you are not referring to anyone Jewish who is from Russia.  There are, of course, thousands of Russian Jews. We assume the ‘Russian’ of which you speak is most likely not connected to any religion at all or possibly from a Christian Russian Orthodox background.

Despite being brought up in an atheistic country, you have a relationship with God. That is wonderful, but it is largely disconnected from your Jewish roots. 

Imagine it was important for someone’s child to be a serious tennis player. That person would take her child to tennis lessons, she would allow her child to see her socialize with others who take tennis seriously.  Right? Growing up, that child would never have any doubt about his mother’s commitment to tennis.  But if mom seldom moved tennis out of her inner heart into day to day actions, there is no reason to expect the child to know of mom’s feelings and certainly little reason to expect him to act on them.  Our children know us by our actions not by our feelings.

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For Yoruba, press 6

January 30th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 4 comments

We were living in Washington State at a time when popular culture decided that loggers were one of the greatest threats to society. Good men lost good jobs as media and politicians treated them with disdain. Exhibit number 3,295 in why I think our government is out of control recently came in the mail. I received a six page insurance statement. One of the pages, on both sides, told me in twelve languages that I was entitled to have the statement translated. Somehow, I don’t think the insurance company decided on their own that it was a good business decision to ask me if I wanted to read what it has to say in Tagalog, Russian, Bengali or Farsi. I feel the heavy hand of government here. Now, I know people who do speak some of those languages and who might prefer to read a statement in their native language. But does every subscriber need to get a page with that information each time the company sends any notice to them? How many trees are cut down because of ludicrous government paperwork? Is it more or fewer than the number of men who lost their jobs because the same people who demand that their Congressional representatives support this ridiculous language policy also had scorn and derision for loggers?

How’s the Weather? Quite Offensive, Thanks.

January 26th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 196 comments

I have had a troubled few days. Let me give you some background. In the late 1970s, my husband was a business professional in Los Angeles when he was introduced to Michael Medved, who had recently begun exploring his Jewish background. My husband began teaching Torah classes to Michael and a few of his friends. This small bunch soon grew to a sizable group studying in crowded living rooms. After a short while, they discovered an almost abandoned old synagogue on the Venice (CA) oceanfront. Within a year this forgotten little synagogue was filled by young people. Although almost everyone started with little knowledge of his or her Jewish roots, they thrilled to investigate Scripture and discover the majesty of religious Jewish life.

While synagogue attendance played a role in the feeling of community, the passionate congregation that sprang up was chiefly based on Bible study and growing together in connection to God.  In fact that is what constituted membership!  If you attended at least one Torah class a week, you were a member. The group, as befits the time and place, was composed of many whose values and views had been shaped by the turbulent Sixties and confused Seventies. It included ex-commune members and hippies as well as an unusually large number of scientists who started off believing that science and religion were in conflict.

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Time for a Mirror?

January 24th, 2017 Posted by On Our Mind 7 comments

I’m having trouble understanding how people who have spent fifty years advocating for vulgarity in our culture can profess shock at vulgar comments by a presidential candidate and then protest his inauguration by spouting vulgarities. At a certain point, doesn’t hypocrisy have to smack you in the face?

Mr. Trump’s Low Approval Ratings

January 19th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 67 comments

I’ve often received poor approval ratings. There were the times I insisted that my children write thank you notes before birthday presents were enjoyed. That certainly wasn’t a popular demand. Then there were the times that I joined my husband in his alliances with Christian leaders, years before the Jewish community recognized what an important friendship this was.

Most recently, a woman at my exercise class backed away from me as if I had just told her that I had beri-beri disease when I said that I voted for Donald Trump. In different times and places, being popular is at odds with being principled, correct or even righteous (not that I’m claiming those mantles).

For this reason, I find the constant headline news that Donald Trump is heading into Inauguration Day with low approval ratings (or conversely that Barack Obama has high ratings at the same time) completely irrelevant. Not being omniscient, I have no way of knowing if President Trump will be principled, correct or righteous. However, I do know that aiming for popularity would be disastrous for his presidency.

Certainly, ignoring the public is risky. In 2012, many people felt that Mitt Romney didn’t care about people like them; in 2016 Hillary Clinton had the same problem. Yet, small slices of information can be misleading. President Trump clearly had a better read on Americans than the pollsters who were incessantly gauging public opinion. Maybe all those people who are gleefully touting the new president’s low approval ratings need to be reminded that doing the job well and being unpopular is preferable to doing the job poorly while being personally popular.

If the country does well, economically, globally and socially over the next few years, it matters little if people (like me) have issues with Mr. Trump’s demeanor. It is certainly nice that the Bushes, father and son, as well as Mr. Obama represented respectable family lives. Neither main party candidate gave that option this time around. I will look elsewhere for role models for my grandchildren in all sorts of areas including guarding one’s speech. There are many aspects that I don’t like about Donald Trump, the man. Right now, I’m looking for a strong hand on the tiller steering our country in the best direction, not a best friend.

Noah’s approval ratings were even lower than Donald Trump’s. His neighbors hated him while God valued him. Why? What made Noah stand out? Find out in The Gathering Storm: Decoding the Secrets of Noah, on sale now.

The Gathering Storm

Avoidable Heartbreak

January 12th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 18 comments

Most of the time, my daughter doesn’t share details of the overnight shifts that she spends as a nurse in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit). Sometimes the care that she and other medical professionals give allow their patients, with God’s grace, to graduate from the ICU on the road to recovery. Other times, she is honored to tend with dignity to those losing the battle for life. Many of her patients are not awake and communicative; she often doesn’t get to uncover the unique individual  hidden behind the person in her charge.

Last week she did share a story. While the natural human emotions of medical professionals need to be controlled for them to do their job, one patient’s plight pierced through my daughter’s defenses. It was not the first time she cared for a young man dying from sickle cell anemia, and his fate upended her equilibrium.

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The Bigger and Not Always Better Picture

January 5th, 2017 Posted by Susan's Musings 10 comments

For the past few months I’ve been driving to a class a few times a week. Rather than listening to the radio, I’ve immersed myself in a podcast, Presidential. Lillian Cunningham of the Washington Post began hosting this weekly broadcast 44 weeks before the recent election.  She intended November’s historical event to coincide with her final episode which, I believe, turned out to be quite a surprise to her.

I am only up to Dwight Eisenhower, though I admit that I cheated and jumped ahead to hear the episode on Donald Trump. What have I learned? I’ve certainly learned about presidents like Chester Arthur who existed only on the periphery of my historical knowledge. I’ve learned interesting factoids on better known presidents like Abraham Lincoln. I’ve gotten a view of the sweep of American history through the eyes of the executive branch. Mostly what I’ve learned though, is how many hills and valleys, tragedies and triumphs, twists and turns have dotted our past.  Personal tragedy, illness and assassination along with national and international events and well or poorly chosen appointees helped frequently to make presidents’ achievements differ greatly from the expectations that existed prior to their elections.

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